Serious Game Alumni Interview #1: Leah Brand

Even though the fully online serious games certificate is too new to have any graduates quite yet, many on campus serious game graduate certificate graduates are already out and about in the world and practicing in the field of serious games. Here at seriousgames.msu.edu, we’d like you to meet some of our amazing alumni.

leah brand

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting a Ms. Leah Brand—and her cat, Mags—over Skype. We couldn’t meet in person since Leah is currently working in Texas at the Baylor College of Medicine. We had a lot of laughs discussing her life post-grad after completing the serious games certificate (and her MA degree in Communication) last spring.

At first during grad school, Leah described, she didn’t feel much camaraderie amongst her fellow Communication classmates. It was in her first serious games course, Understanding Users, that she felt more of a cohort with the telecommunication department than with her communication classmates. There was, as she recalls, “an initial feeling of acceptance.”  The immediate and persistent sense of community was even more surprising given that MSU Professor Carrie Heeter teaches live and online serious game classes over the Internet from her home in San Francisco and appears in the classroom as a mere (6 foot) head on a screen. And yet, Carrie seemed more involved with the students than a lot of “normal” professors do.  Leah remembers the Understanding Users class as an “Aha!” moment, that time when the light bulb finally buzzed on.

Originally, Leah’s interest in the serious games certificate came from her interest in educational media for children and early childhood. She believed in the positive impact that thoughtful media can have. Her close professor, Dr. John Sherry, told her about the certificate program and how it would be a good fit because what people have been doing with educational children’s television, can now be done, perhaps even better, with games. Even though Leah was never a “hardcore” gamer, she did enjoy casual games. At first, she says, she felt a bit like an imposter. But the program was so accepting and creative, her lack of hardcore gaming experience “just didn’t matter.”

“I always thought that taking a creative path was like running away with the circus, but communication science wasn’t for me. I like the idea that communication can be an art. Something qualitative vs. quantitative.”

Later, in the serious game theories class taught by Dr. Wei Peng, Leah gave a presentation about a paper published by Tom and Janice Baranowski on a pediatric nutrition game. At the Meaningful Play Conference hosted by Michigan State University that year, Dr. Peng noticed Leah’s excitement during a “Toddlers and Technology” presentation by Fisher Price and recognized her interest in early childhood. Not long after graduation, right in the middle of job searching, Dr. Peng had forwarded an email to Leah about a new game that was under development by nutrition scientists Tom and Janice Baranowski, dealing with teaching parents how to feed their children vegetables. They were seeking a liaison with experience in serious games to work with research scientists. This is where Leah asserts she would have never landed in her current job if it hadn’t been for the connections and skills she made through the program. With recommendations from Dr. Peng, and the skills to back it up, she found herself uprooted from Michigan and off to Texas.

mnflplay2012

Meaningful Play Conference, 2012

Leah couldn’t be more thrilled about her job as a research coordinator at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor School of Medicine. She constantly uses game lingo, her knowledge of serious game theories, and game design processes. Leah often finds herself referring to the fun theory cards method she learned during her time as MSU. At one point, she laid the cards down in front of the research team and asked “What kinds of fun do we want this game to include?” Every day, she acts as the liaison between the game developers and the research scientists.   With research goals and game design processes in mind, she considers what the levels will look like, what the dialogue will sound like, and the content of the game.

When she went to the Meaningful Play Conference last Fall, she was struck by how lucky a speaker from Electronic Arts was to be able to say “We study games. We work on games.” Leah realized as she settled into her new job, “I’m working on games! That’s my job. How cool is that! My expertise from MSU brought me here.”

“On the very basic level,” Leah says, “I would never have this job without the certificate, nor would I be living in Texas, halfway across the country.” But the biggest thing Leah took away from her experience in the certificate program is that “you can combine art and creativity and make something thoughtful and fun and have that be a job.”   She hoped that was true. The serious game graduate certificate courses confirmed her hopes and then prepared her for that job.

For those already in the certificate program, Leah says “enjoy it. Learn everything because you’ll probably use it later. You’ll be surprised at how much stuff you learn that you will use again later. Have fun and remember that you’re working on games and that’s awesome! And also connect with people. I made lots of good friends, and they will help you out in the field later. It’s a small enough program that you really get to know your classmates and teachers.”

As for those thinking about joining, she leaves this piece of advice: “I’d say do it, because even if you think it might be just a bit related, what you learn is interesting and has something in common with anything, even something like political science. There’s a place for you in serious games. It’s so many things, such a creative outlet for so many important worlds and topics. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be fun. You don’t have to be a gamer. I’m not a gamer and I loved it. There’s a lot of ways to be successful in serious games, and if you think it might enhance your education or your career, you should do it!”

“I don’t want to be cliché, but this program was the best decision I made in grad school. It just was. It’s a great place for the smart and the fun. I miss it a lot, but I’m using what I learned now, and that’s great!”

As I write this blog, I’m pretty happy to be starting this program myself.

 

Lissy Torres

Michigan State University, Serious Games Graduate Student

@MSUGameMonster

www.seriousgames.msu.edu

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